Tag Archives: short story

Yangon Notes (3 of 9)

This gallery contains 21 photos.

Second day: morning walk on one of the alleys off of Insein Street. Pancakes and tea. Back to hotel, off to find printing area. Was told there were many shops around 31st St. Had no address and walked around in … Continue reading

A Star is Born or Something

I'm huffing and puffing and carrying a large ironing board. I still have tons of things to do. One is to print out 60 copies of the show sequence. After that I have to attach cardboard fins to the ironing board and cover it all with aluminum foil. I need to make jaws out of paper plates or something. Where's Susan's classroom? I zip around the third floor. Finally I find the right room. Inside is a curvy, beautiful Chinese woman. She's naked. She's surrounded by people. She smiles at me. "Wow," I think, "I really should get some sleep." The shocked students in Susan's nude drawing class watch me retreat. Stepping backwards into the hall, I knock down an impeccably dressed student. I apologize by asking where the printer is. He stares at the ironing board as he gets up. My wild eyes meet his. The electric hair clipper falls from my overloaded bag. Then, the big ball of aluminum foil drops and rolls right in front of his fancy red shoes. "You're an artist or something?" "Yep. An artist or something." He steps towards a door and waves a plastic card near a space-agey thing. Like a scene from Star Trek, the door slides open, revealing a room full of grey desks. The student must leave, but he introduces me to Ginette. Ginette is what they call "a fixture on the underground music scene." She's just come from the airport after "my little show in Paris.". She's helpful and cheerful. She is attractive. Very attractive. She takes my thumbdrive and inserts it into her laptop. Yes, I know what you are thinking and I was thinking it too, but Ginette is a Singaporean superstar and I'm just a guy carrying an ironing board. Twenty minutes from now I'll be onstage, reading a sad story about hairless Chihuahuas. But yes, if I had time and we'd had a few drinks, I would certainly ask Ginette if I could insert my thumbdrive into her laptop again. Anyhoo, the printer's near a magnificent window and I spend three seconds taking in the sprawling dynamic, culturally diverse Singaporean nightscape before me. Yada yada yada. I finish, pick up my ironing board and profusely thank Ginette. I put my thumbdrive back in my pants and fly downstairs. Amith and Mel met each other for the first time about ten minutes ago. I introduced them just before I bumped into the naked woman. Amith plays acoustic guitar and Mel plays the nose flute and some kind of electronic thingy he made from an ice cream container. The y will play music while I read. I pass them the freshly printed show sequence. I say we'll do a quick runthrough when I "come back in a minute." I run off to finally make the shark from the ironing board. I reach backstage and suddenly ten people ask me twenty, thirty questions, all at once. I ignore them all. "Will you be a shark?" I say to Luke. Luke is a tall, thin Indian guy, dressed in black. Against the dark stage, he will be nearly invisible and it will seem as though the aluminum foil shark is magically and ferociously pursuing Joe the diver. As Joe is singing and being attacked, I will loudly proclaim that, "Joe the diver does not exist!" Luke adjusts his glasses worriedly? "Me, a shark? How, sir, shall this effect be realized?" "You see this ironing board? It'll be wrapped in foil and it'll have fins. I need to make some teeth. Anyway... just hold the ironing board shark and jump around like you're a bloodthirsty wolf of the sea!" Luke looks like he wants to write this down. "Bloodthirsty wolf of the sea... Understood. When, sir, shall this jumping occur?" "Just wait for the diver to start singing. Then, count to ten and start stalking. Stalk him like, like, like he's a chicken, a chicken dinner! Yeah, he's a chicken dinner and and you're a wildly hungry jumping starving sea wolf! Ignore my screaming and DO NOT attack me!" I walk backstage and answer hundreds of questions while using the last bit of happy face Scotch tape and some Band-Aids to attach the fins to the ironing board. Amith's gonna kill me because the tape and Band-Aids are going to leave gooey marks on the ironing board for sure. In the corner of the backstreets of my mind I am in a yoga position, cross-legged, chanting a long soothing mantra:Luke will be invisible. The ironing board shark WILL float menacingly and magically towards Joe as he sings his Air Supply song. The little yoga guy in my head can already see panties and bras being thrown onstage. The yoga guy can hear five hundred people in the audience screaming "Wow!" and "Magnifico!" Thato, one of the poet/performers from the Serengeti, patiently taps me on the shoulder and asks for his cue. Thato will perform his poem called "I'm Coming." Mel will accompany him with the nose flute. Then, Andrew will come onstage and will slowly gyrate his hips. In his best Barry White voice, he will read about the Armenian Church and pie dough. I cannot find Andrew. My Lady Gaga ringtone blares from the bag with the foil. I finally find it. It's Ben. He'll be here in ten minutes. I go on in five. My hair clippers are missing. I tell the musicians to forget about the hair performance art piece. Savinder pushes me and I nervously join Amith and Mel onstage... It was great. The music was incredible. As I ranted about not being able to see Joe the diver, the audience saw Joe walk onstage with his flippers and air tank, sounding like Darth Vader on his honeymoon. Then Luke the shark appeared. Joe tried to run but his mask was fogged and he plowed into Mel. Luke chased Joe semi-invisibly. His glasses fell off and he got lost in the stage curtain. Amith later said he was laughing so hard that he was in tears. Joe couldn't sing at first because using the oxygen tank on land made his throat dry. I couldn't hear anything. I was calmly reading to the four remaining members of the audience, expressing my frustration that it is impossible for the reader to accurately visualize the events which take place in a writer's head. 3how CD: The Riverwalk Session, co-produced by SB Mel Araneta and Stephen Black are featured in SPOKEN, a virtual exhibition
a man wearing a diving mask and tank on stage

Performance by 3how at LASALLE college of the Arts. part of the Lit Up festival organised by Word Forward. 2010

Snakefruit Epiphany (from Bali Wave Ghost)

SNAKEFRUIT EPIPHANY The backpacker walked in, ordered turmeric tea and began pulling books and pamphlets from her bag. Half an hour later, the blonde arrived in a motorcycle sidecar that looked exactly like a very big bottle of champagne. She caught the eye of the waiter the moment she stepped in. Neither she nor the backpacker recognized me. Though seated at the same table, the two women ignored each other; the reading materials were like a wall. Finally, the backpacker cleared her throat and began to read from a pamphlet. Trunyan is an ancient village in Bali, whose inhabitants call themselves “Bali Aga” or Old Balinese. In the center of the village is a temple called Puser Jagat, meaning ’The Navel of the Universe.’ The temple’s architecture is unlike any other on Bali. It stands under a massive banyan tree. The backpacker is a freckled cherub with tattoos and a pierced nose. Calm and factual at first, now she slowly raises her hands like a wizard performing a spell. When a villager passes away, the body is placed under the banyan tree. The tree emits an arboreal fragrance that masks the stench of death. Her hands flutter back onto the table.”Lovely perfume Francesca.” “It’s Krasnaya. Lovely of you to comment.” On the other side of the room the waiter holds up a carafe. Francesca nods. The waiter points to a red table cloth. Francesca shakes her head. He points at the crotch of his white apron. She smiles, then briefly glances at the backpacker. “I notice you still don’t use perfume,” Francesca pulls cigarettes and an ashtray from her purse, “nor deodorant.” The waiter brings the wine, a glass and bruschetta: toasted slices of bread, basil, cubes of tomatoes and cloves of garlic. Francesca picks up her glass, the waiter pours and the backpacker reads again. Once a sleepy village, Jimbaran lies on Bali’s southern peninsula. Its pristine sand beckons you for long walks along its coast. Or, enjoy dining at one of the beachside seafood restaurants. A reef provides protection from the wave action, allowing excellent swimming. Jimbaran is known for its spectacular sunsets. “Speaking of sleepy villages, how’s Perth? Everything running smoothly at the orphanage? Oh wait, you volunteer here, in Bali. And the orphanage is in, is in… Denpasar? No, that isn’t correct is it? The orphanage is in Singaraja? No, that’s not right. Oh yes, I remember. The orphanage is near Ubud, in a jungle valley with a river. With a bar and a pool overlooking rice terraces.” “We have a karaoke once a month in the dining hall. And it’s a pond, not a pool.” Francesca refills her glass. Another passage is read, this time with the voice of a pirate. In the 1830s Kuta was a bustling slave market and a base for a notorious variety of international lowlifes. The backpacker again clears her throat and almost looks up. Hippies and surfers began arriving in the 1960s. Kuta is now one of the busiest tourist areas in the world, a wonderland of sun, surf, hotels and bars. Fran moves her glass over one of the books. “Eat Pay Leave. Your pirate voice might make it interesting.” “Must you always emit such massive negativity? You’re like a... like an...Anti-Eat Pray Love Person! Why don’t you write your own book? Three years here, for sure you know everything about the real Bali.” “The real Bali? The real Bali is a ten minute kechak dance during happy hour. Or the beach in Kuta. Makes me ill. Anti-Eat Pray Love Person? Me? No, no, no… I am the most positive person you’ll ever meet. Just ask your father.” She says this slowly, in between smoking and looking at her phone. The table has become a boxing ring with a vase of frangipanis and crisp linen napkins. One fighter starts tapping at Facebook, her opponent points at maps in a Lonely Planet guide book. Francesca finally looks up. “Gattopardo! Finally! I have you all to myself. Sit down!” Gattopardo remains standing, smiling and serene. “Francesca! Amore! Beautiful to see you and your charming friend. Your invitation is very kind. But, sad to say, my morning delivery just arrived. Now I am a headache.” He looks at Francesca, slowly rubs his hands. “Amore, of course you know I would enjoy with you a bottle of wine. Or champagne. “ “Both.” Francesca leans back and runs her fingers through her hair. Her eyes are locked on Gattopardo. She is petite; when she extracted herself from the champagne sidecar, she did so with the grace of a ballerina. Francesca leans forward, looks directly into the eyes of the backpacker. “Gattopardo, am I a lush?” Gattopardo gazes out at the rice fields. He looks over the golden umbrella above the small stone shrine in the parking lot. The bottom half is wrapped in a black and white checkered cloth; a saput poleng. Gattopardo looks at Francesca. “Amore, you are most certainly not a lush,” he says quietly. Twenty minutes ago I experienced an epiphany because of Gattopardo. He didn’t sing me an aria as I ate spaghetti; he hadn’t taught me a Sanskrit mantra. He didn’t read my palm. Gattopardo simply served me a plate of snakefruit pasta. “Tagliarini al salak,” he said. The moment he placed it before me I began moving my nose through the delicate steam swirling above the glistening noodles. Like a magician, Gattopardo then reached into his chef’s jacket and produced a heart-shaped, reddish-brown leathery fruit.”A snakefruit, a salak.” He placed it on my table. “Bon appetito.” Heavy yet soft, the pasta was a perfect balance of egg yolk and double zero wheat flour. Shavings of roasted almonds, the sweetness of mascarpone cheese and a whisper of seasoning. The crunchy snakefruit, delightfully sour, had been sliced very thinly—and frozen! As I ate, I drifted. I contemplated my hand’s relationship to the fork it held. I saw new colors when I looked outside. I went to the wheat fields of the place where I was born. I imagined what a salak tree looked like. The food was transformative. One moment I was in a happy credit card commercial, the next I was confronted with a huge, messy map of my destructive life. You are here. “Join me,” Francesca purrs to Gattopardo, swirling her chest, running a finger along the stem of her glass. “Just one.” “Amore, my heart says yes, my schedule says no.” Gattopardo pushes his glasses to the top of his nose. “But I promise we soon have a sweet time together. You have my word.” One of the cute Japanese women sitting in the corner gets up and approaches my table. She’s smiling and holding a camera. I know she’s going to say something I’ve heard millions of times. “Excuse me, Mr. Orgasm Donor, can I take a picture with you?” ................................................end........................... Voila! The debut of a new dish, tagliarini al salak. The dish has yet to be actually created but was conceptualized by Chef Ezio Barbero, owner of the La Bruschetta restaurant in Sanur, Bali. The above is an excerpt from Bali Wave Ghost will soon be published. Artist/writer Stephen Black has written several other books including the Singaporean cult classic I Ate Tiong Bahru. ! The debut of a new dish, tagliarini al salak. The dish has yet to be actually created but was conceptualized by Chef Ezio Barbero, owner of the La Bruschetta restaurant in Sanur, Bali.

The Greatest Music of All Time

Nona's drawing of James Brown

Al Green wrote the most glorious song in the world.

Love and Happiness is the beautiful insanity of cherry blossoms.  Love and Happiness is poetry, fear, hope, weakness, strength, violins and big fat funk beats. I have a version of it on a CD, Al Green’s Greatest Hits, an incredible release by Motown Records.

On the booklet that came with the CD is the Motown Records logo.  The logo features a map, and on the bottom part of the map, leading south out of Detroit, is a highway called I-75. My daughter and I are now northbound on I-75. We’re going to a concert: James Brown.

The show starts with Funky Good Time and the crowd is a smiling big fat body, clapping and shaking. James Brown is a wildfire of greatness. My daughter’s on my shoulders waving her arms. Without missing a beat, James Brown pulls her up onto the stage. The two of them boogie around and the crowd goes even wilder. The song finally ends and my daughter skips to the side of the stage. She waves at me, her happy eyes as big as saucers. James jumps into Say It Loud- I’m Black and Proud. Detroit chants it right back.

Funky, funky minutes pass by. Then, in the midst of Please, Please, Please, James Brown collapses! A man rushes onstage and covers Mr. Brown with a blanket! My daughter’s hand freezes over her mouth. James is unconscious. The troubled band slows down, slows way down… what to do, what to do? Fear and worry fill the summer air. People gasp. You can hear the cars on the highway and the quiet of the neighborhood. James is a lifeless crumpled heap.

Then, like secretive doctors, the guys in the horn section nod at each other. They start radiating whispery, jazzy notes of soul.  The trumpet sounds like a light house, the drummers sound like waves. The backup singers are a sunrise.

His hand twitches!

The angels with guitars slowly play bittersweet riffs, like medicine, and the horn section is now the grace of God and… yes! Yes! YES! James is given the gift of life! The drums become heartbeats and the band starts pumpin’ and James is up and the blanket’s a robe! The funky medicine gets stronger! The robe’s a cape!  James Brown kicks the mike stand! The stand lands in his outstretched hand! The band drops into the biggest baddest groove in the universe and Mr. Brown picks up where he left off! He gets his good foot up... homework gettin' done! OUTTA SIGHT! Men stare and dance and the women whirl like they’re in a trance. Detroit sheds tears of joy and James takes us even higher. He lets the groove get there, get there, get there one more time and then, with a sideways stuntman acrobat ballet body snap, he stops the world on a dime…and then THE scream from THE GODFATHER, “Ahhhhhhhhhhh…. 1, 2, 3, 4!”  I Feel Good! Bigger than life, all three drummers pullin' out the joints! My daughter’s up there, smiling and spinning.

That was the movie I played in my head as we drove up I-75.

Al Green’s Greatest Hits was the first CD I ever bought and James Brown Live at the Apollo was the second.

Yes, CDs in Japan were expensive but James Brown is James Brown and Al Green is Al Green. My wife and I needed some soul music. We were living in Tokyo and Tokyo can be soulless. Those CDs were better than gold. Now, 13 years later, I am bringing our daughter to see James Brown.

Even if I had a James Brown CD in the car, I wouldn’t play it. She’s happy with whatever’s on the radio. She knows James Brown like she knows Richard Nixon.

We start walking across the dusty parking lot outside the Michigan State Fair. The empty Detroit skyline is big on the horizon. I sense, but cannot see, the empty car factories. The little house that was the home of Motown Records is somewhere near.

Five bucks and we’re in. She gets her face painted. We get tossed around on octopus rides with lots of little flashing light bulbs and heavy metal music. Hot dogs, blue ribbon pigs and prizewinning carrot cakes: this is the American Midwest.

I’m nicely surprised to discover that Little Richard is also on the bill. Little Richard talks and sings and talks some more. We roll our eyes when he starts his second encore. Little Richard talks a lot. I prepare myself for two possibilities: the first is like the movie I imagined coming up I-75. The second is a collision of boredom, hypothermia, claustrophobia, cotton candy-fueled adolescent bad temper, whines and crying.

Little Richard finally waves good night. We work our way closer to the stage. We wait. She yawns and looks cold. We wait some more.

Finally a large group of beautifully dressed people come on stage- the Soul Generals and the Bittersweets. They play snippets of JB classics and the announcer, Danny Ray, starts building excitement. Lights flash! “Star Time!” James Brown marches out, smiling but serious, with perfect hair and mirror shoes.

Boom! Make It Funky begins. The crowd goes wild. The song ends and James starts talking to Motown like he’s catching up with an old friend. He becomes wistful, sounding like a concerned favorite uncle as he describes “all the good times and the eras full of bad nothing…You gotta do it for yourselves you know.” He kicks into Living in America. She’s tired, but my daughter sings along. Is she enjoying this? The song ends. Everything becomes quiet.

James steps back from the mike! An instrumental? A man who had been singing backup smoothly steps up to the mike. James barely moves his hand: the band gets ready. James silently mouths 3-2-1 and then… a magical guitar riff floods my soul….

“We’re goin’ up front,” I tell my daughter as I lift her onto my shoulders, “and then we’re goin’ home.”

James Brown’s band is playing Love and Happiness. James is grooving slowly in his golden suit. He sees my daughter on my shoulders. His smile brightens even more and, for a moment--for one sweet moment, we are all in a groove.

Great examples of the power of words

There is no theme to this post, except that I like the way the words work. Like ten pounds of mud in a five pound sack... Comment made about an outfit worn by Dolly Parton.   Like buying a dollar for ninety cents... Comment made about Amazon stock when it first went on sale...   ... when the Okies move to California, the average intelligence of both states increases... -Will Rogers Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read. -Frank  Zappa  

In a constantly changing world, not taking risks could be the most risky thing one can do.

-headline of internet article

He writes like a foot.

-French expression about someone who writes poorly.

Giuliani is a short man looking for a balcony.

-Jimmy Breslin


Division Street: A Verry Larch Mystery

Richard Lord, a writer and one with extensive experience inside the publishing business, once told me that, in the world of publishing, "Sex sells, but crime pays." Crime always interested me as a topic, but there was enough on my plate already. And the genre seems well stocked. What could I add? And then I read something about a writer who was inviting other writers to create ebooks based on the fictional crossover concept, or IP weaving. Mashups, in other words. I enjoy collaborations and in this case the potential collaborator seemed to have a successful franchise. I wrote something... Long story short: I still hope to collaborate with the right person. For now I am happy to introduce Book Merah's newest team member: Lucas County. Lucas specializes in crime and we are very excited about his Verry Larch mystery series. Here's a sample.

Division Street

A Verry Larch Mystery by Lucas County   During Prohibition, Lulu's Rear End was "da speakeasy at de enda da block." The two story building had later been a brothel, a tap room with five families upstairs, a Polish social club and a strip bar. After surviving the race riots of the Sixties and the arson epidemics of the Seventies, Lulu's became the Redeeming Light Gospel Center. Then, the headquarters of the Poor Handmaidens of Jesus Christ. A Puerto Rican community center, an organic something or another, a wedding hall. Boarded up again. A blues joint. A punk club. Deserted again. A crack house. Then, Daniel bought it. The woman walking down Division Street hadn't seen all of these reincarnations, of course. She'd only been inside once. She'd learned its history from bits and pieces. Every now and then Daniel shared his research with her, fun things like Sammy Davis Junior playing drums at Lulu's! We gotta picture! Color! or things more serious: detectives once found almost a pound of heroin in the freezer! Can you imagine that? Almost a pound! At the precinct, once in a while someone would say something vague but comical about the "old days at Lulu's". Stinkin' fish and coffee...   The magic dust of gentrification hadn't been sprinkled on Division Street equally. A guy, probably Puerto Rican, unloads groceries from his car. Beneath the crisp blue September sky and lambwhite clouds he and his new house look like an advertisement. On the beaten house next door, the windows are scarred from fires. Scaffolding here, piles of concrete blocks there. A pair of bicycles, bright red and delicately thin, locked together on a newly painted porch. A lot full of weeds and trash. A young nicely dressed woman, walking on the north side of the street. Two African-American girls in fast food restaurant uniforms, sitting on the curb. A new Buick parked too close to a fire hydrant. She watches the cars run over the long shadows of trees and houses and remembers when every porch had a radio. Elvis, The Supremes, the Beatles... Frank Sinatra. The Bears, the Cubs and especially the White Sox. Harry Caray singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". The excitement of birthday dinners on Polish Broadway. She passes the alley shortcut she used to take to school. The woman remembers the winters and how, sometimes, it became dark so early. After she started working here, things changed: neighbors became residents, witnesses or suspects. She drove her patrol car where she and her childhood friends had ridden bicycles. That night at St. Elizabeth's, the intensive care unit: Byron close to death as she looked outside and saw squad cars and firetrucks rushing towards her childhood home.   "C'mon man, Benjamin, take it... all that rehearsing. You've earned it. You nailed it!"   " No, no, no... Daniel, I can't take money for this. Now, thanks to you, I've got the most perfect little piece to present at auditions. Not to mention that fabulous VHS recording. What's most important is that she likes it." "She'll love it. Barney Miller's the only cop show she'll watch for more than ten seconds. And, she loves musicals. Now c'mon and take this." "I can't. Really, I shouldn't." "You have to...I want a dedication." Benjamin Goodman looked at Daniel and took the money. "Let me guess who you're dedicating this to..." "No names, they'll be embarrassed. Just say something like, 'here's something for our unsung heroes.' " "That's it?" "That's it... Start when we come in from the patio." This was the first time she'd seen the changes up close."Daniel's committed," she thought. New siding, a cute little lawn and the beautifully restored sign for Lulu's Rear End. At night, in blue neon, the same sign spelled out 'LuLu Read'. She steps in, makes a mental map: back door, payphone, light switches and restrooms. She counts the pool sticks and ignores the sock puppets singing on the card table beside her. She makes eye contact with one of the men in the kitchen and approaches him, studying the cash register, the anemic bartender, the few people in the audience and the couple at the far end of the long wooden bar. "Daniel, I know I'm late... we were out of cat food... I mean I was out of cat food. I mean the cat needed food." Her words are apologetic but emotionless. She looks over the other man and the knives hanging nearby. She shoots her eyes into Daniel's. "You two look busy and I see Veronica's in back... " "Yep! Grab a seat, Mrs. Kocinski. I'll be right there." "Daniel, We've discussed this. Been over this many times. Call me what you like. It's not against the law to call me mom." Benjamin waits til she leaves, then looks at Daniel and rolls his eyes. "Well... isn't she all business! Daniel, if she doesn't like my performance, is she going to arrest us?" "What do you mean, "arrest us"? This was all your idea! You're the perp!" "Oh, Daniel, you treacherous traitor! Go! Go out there and join your fabulous wife and, and...Officer Mother Inlaw!" Another doorway, another brief pause. An alley, an unlocked gate. Wooden fences on three sides, one side open to Division. The grey skyline of Chicago behind the houses of Wicker Park. A few customers having lunch and three guys looking through scrapbooks. She moves towards the back corner. "Veronica! You look like a million bucks. Is that a new blouse?" "Yep! On top of everything else, I went shopping while Daniel did a little writing." "On top of everything else?" "Yeah...on top of everything else." Their eyes are the same shade of brown and the sounds of their laughter are similar. Greyish brown hair, glasses, a bit of extra weight and a sense of toughness on the one; auburn hair, thin legs and a honeymooner's glow on the other. "So you had a good time?" "A great time! On top of everything else, this was 80% off! Anne Klein!" Mom feels the material and smiles at her daughter. "Beautiful and on sale... on top of everything else."   "Ladies! What can I get you? I've ordered a plate of wings. You want anything else to eat, just tell me. M-m-m-mom, what can I get you?". "Daniel stop stuttering. Sit down and relax. We're not your customers." "Right! Um...OK. But, I gotta tell ya... there's a few things I totally cannot ignore right now. But... at 6 we've got reservations at Lucia's. I've got two bottles of Chianti in the cooler. Tonight I will do nothing but enjoy the company of the two most beautiful women in Chicago." "OK, Daniel... Bring Veronica another coffee, please, and I'll have an iced tea. Also bring back a couple of shovels wouldya? Bullpuckey's getting pretty deep in here." Daniel laughs so loudly the other customers look at him. "Bullpuckey! Mrs.... Mom... you're too much!"   "Daniel thinks you're the one who should write a book. He's trying to get up the courage to ask you about being one of the first women cops and all that stuff. " "Me? Interview? Let him watch Charlie the Angel or that Miami Vice show. Law and Order! That's how it is. Just look serious and yell 'freeze' all the time. Police Woman! There you go! That's me. I punch in and go work as a go go girl undercover cop. Pepper Anderson!  What a ridiculous name. Almost as bad as yours." "Verry Larch isn't that bad. I could be called worse." "You will be." Daniel pops back onto the patio and heads towards their table, stopping first to crush a cigarette into an ashtray. "He was doing OK, until we ran out of the nicotine patches..." " I can hold my tongue, don't worry. Daniel wants to ruin his lungs and die before my grandkids grow up, who am I to stop him..." "Mom!"   A tall young blonde man stands up in front of Daniel. "Dude...just need a second." He points to a table covered with photos, posters, VHS tapes and cassettes. The tall guy's wearing a black T-shirt for a band called Asia. Asia's logo is obliterated by six words written in cracked white housepaint: Geffen Records Recording Artists Sonic Youth. A grainy, contrasty black and white 8 x 10 photo is thrust before Daniel. "Is that Parry Dice before he shaved his head? Nelson says there was an all ages show with the Great Pumpkins..." "Yeah, Check with a guy named Merle at The End Gallery. That was an art opening or something." The guy with the mohawk and a Big Black T-shirt  passes Daniel a sheet full of slides and a magnifying loupe. "Check it out, man. Does. Not. Get. Any. Cooler..." Daniel holds the slides up towards the sun and moves the loupe around. He strikes a rockstar pose and punches the air. "Freaking AWESOME! Buddy Guy and Iggy Pop underneath the sign. Amazing! Effin' amazing.I am so psyched! This is gonna be awesome. Denzel...we're on schedule, right?" Denzel doesn't look up from his computer. "We're getting there." Daniel sits down and grabs a chicken wing."We're making a CD-ROM". "A seedy what? Seedy rom? Sounds like a new street drug." Daniel snorts so loudly that customers look at him."Mom, you're too much..." He puts down a chicken wing bone and carefully cleans his hands with a napkin.He jumps up and grabs an envelope from the table of the CD-ROM crew. He opens the envelope and pulls out two photos, both wrapped in plastic. "Are you producing evidence?" "Daniel, Mom's joking...relax." One photo is a Polaroid of Veronica and Daniel making a toast with coffee cups held in gloved hands. "That was taken over there, on the day we got six inches of snow. Supposed to be the first day for the electricians. They didn't show up." Daniel pointed to the other photo."This was taken right here. Verry's study corner. "He moved his finger back and forth between the two pictures. I need to pick one for the CD-ROM." "These used to be on our fridge." "My hair's frizzy and the books make look like a nerd. I go with the one in the snow." "Veronica, the winter picture makes you look fat. The books make you look smart." The waitress brings the bill to the couple at the next table.. The Asian woman with lime green hair and helicopters tattooed on her arms reaches for it. The sunburnt man across from her grunts and tries to scrub spilled cappuccino out of his yellow Bad Brains tanktop. On the table is a TV Guide with the Olsen twins on the cover, both wearing  business suits. Mom sees a Wisconsin driver's license in the woman's wallet.   Mom looks towards Division Street. She'd never told the two that she'd been here once before, when the streets were soft with slush and the snow crunched with every footstep. That night, fourteen years ago, Mom and Byron walked into the lightless hell that was Lulu's. It smelled like urine and smoke. They moved their flashlight beams over syringe wrappers, blackened spoons and a stainless steel sink full of ashes. Graffiti on the oak panelling and snow beneath the broken windows. The only sounds were walkie talkie static and the bored drone of the dispatcher. Lulu's had no wiring left, no pipes; nothing related to normal life. Mom and Byron had stepped out here with brooms in their hands.This wasn't a patio then. Starting by the door, they swept snow until they found the body. An hour later, Mom used a Spanish-English dictionary to ask the mother to come to the morgue. The deceased girl was seventeen years old.   "Well, this is really something. A beautiful sunset, my daughter, my new son-in-law, and a plate of chicken wings with blue cheese dip!  Mom wiggles out of her windbreaker, then neatly folds it . She makes a bib of her napkin and discretely slips off her shoes. Daniel uses a chicken wing like a pointer. "OK, a question for you two police officers... OK. Ya got occupations like the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. Ya got farmers, jugglers...tuba players...these make sense. I'm a writer because I write. Jeff's tends to the bar, so he's a bartender. But 'officer'? C'mon...how does that work?. You guys hate offices. Am I missing something or what, OFFICERS? And, now that I think of it, what does a butcher do? The sun strikes Veronica's hair as she laughs. Mom is happy for her daughter, happy for the two of them.   Inside, very loud metallic crack!. Mom drops her chicken wing, feels her purse and focuses on the door. Veronica calmly sips her tea. Daniel sighs. "Guys come in and start playing with the sound board and the next thing you know the whole thing's goofed up. Probably blew another fuse or something. Be right back. Hopefully. " Mom picks up her chicken wing and acts as if she was amused at Daniel's joke. "Oh yes...we are officers... How does that work?" "So, Officer Kocinski..."Veronica, is no longer a carefree newlywed: she's a serious cop."How's the parking at the 26th?" "There's no space with your name on it, that's for sure. Get there an hour early, bring a book and wait in the car. Somebody somewhere's gonna give you a hard time, even for showing up very early on your first day. By the way, my dear daughter... as a rookie cop, you don't need any advice. But, you're a beginner and, just like any beginner on any job anywhere in the world, the best thing you can do is keep your eyes and ears open..." "...and my mouth shut. I know, I know." "And don't say 'I know' if someone tells you something!" Daniel plops another bowl of blue cheese dressing on the table.. "Well that was a surprise. Sound guy actually knows what he's doing. It was the guy from last night that messed things up." Still standing, he stretches his suspenders and takes a deep breath. "Chicago actually smells pretty nice today." "Daniel, what's going in there? The singing socks kinda lost me." Daniel picks up the program and begins reading in a serious voice. "...by using sock puppets to subvert racial and gender-based hegemony, the artists explore and reinvent paradigms that .... "Wo, wo, wo...Daniel, that's enough..." Daniel nods and sits down. The Coppatone Cabaret was his idea, a way to get people in on Sunday afternoons. His embarrassment disappears as he loads another chicken wing with dip. "I never read these artists' Statements... some people who are just plain nuts. Last week a group performed Baywatch with life-size inflatable sex dolls." He stretches to look inside.  "Chordelia. Last week she sang 'Indiana Wants Me'...made me cry. OK..I've got exactly five o'clock. Chordelia's on for 20 minutes...and then Benjamin Goodman's up. Amazing. The guy's amazing"! A mournful version of "Stop in the Name of Love" made its way to the patio. Mom again looked over Division,.noticing the nicely dressed young woman she'd seen before. Probably in college and selling something door to door. Maybe insurance, maybe roofing. Cosmetics or magazines. Gotta be a tough doing door to door. No dispatcher, no partner, no backup. You succeed or you do not. On your own. Always. "So, Mom...waddya think of Lulu's Rear End? Full of history, right?" Daniel was becoming comfortable saying 'mom'. "Impressive. You've done a lot of work." "Oh, gees...a lot of work is right. Termites and all kinds of crap. Fire damage. Unbelievable. And then the permits. Gut rehab. You know how much they want for just that one piece of paper? Zoning stuff! Meeting after meeting...Daniel paused a beat. "Mon, everywhere you look, dere's always dat stinkin fish and coffee." He smiled cautiously. Mom's first partner was a Jamaican named Byron who kept his ancestry to himself, with one exception. After certain meetings or newspaper articles, he'd shake his head and look you straight in the eye. Then, he'd open his mouth and out would come a Jamaican accent as strong and rich as sugarcane rum, "Mon, everywhere you look, dere's always dat stinkin' fish and coffee." Veronica was now married; family jokes and intimacies were no longer absolutely secret. It worked both ways: Daniel probably didn't know that that she'd seen parts of a letter he'd once sent to Veronica. Fountain pen, flowing penmanship, parchment, envelope sealed with wax: Veronica had been ecstatic. Veronica. The only child of a single cop. When Marple, her cat had died, Veronica calmly asked her mother to "come and ID the body." Veronica. Always, she slept by the door, the phone nearby and the police radio on. Veronica. Tomorrow she would go out into the world wearing a blue uniform with a star on the front and a target on the back. She'd long ago stopped wondering why her daughter wanted to be a cop. Being a cop was a loser's game. Unappreciated, underpayed and outnumbered. Survive until retirement and you might look back and think you made the world a better place. Or, you'd wonder why the system had played you for a fool.  Mom stirred her coffee while they decided whose alarm clock to use. Tonight would be one of Veronica's last peaceful nights. After they'd softly decided to use Daniel's clock, Mom cleared her throat. "Daniel, I'm going to tell Veronica something I don't think she's heard before. I'd like you to hear it too. Anything you need to do in the next five minutes?" "No." "OK..." Mom swirled her ice tea one last time. "I'm on duty my first day. We get a call requesting back up at Rush and Division. It's 1 in the afternoon and in a place like that you figure it's usually something like a wife joining a husband-secretary three martini lunch. Maybe an ex-employee with a baseball bat collecting his salary. Stuff like that. But when we roll up things seem like they've already been resolved. Great! The suspects were drunk Russian businessmen who just happened to have a handful of stolen credit cards. Things had gotten rough and they called for backup. But we get there and the two bad guys are cuffed and on the ground. Unhappy but quiet. The arresting officer is bleeding and one of his eyes is swollen shut. He'd caught a bottle with his forehead. Long story short: I get to transport the suspects. Again with the woman driver jokes and the one about Paulina, Melvina and Lunt." Daniel smiled. Veronica didn't move. "So we take off and they just sit there. Well! It's my first day and I'm driving a police car with two criminals in the back. Justice is being served! The good guys are ahead! And then I remember... The siren! I wasn't gonna do anything outrageous, wasn't even gonna start speeding... no, I was just gonna make my delivery a little special. So I flick on the siren and the light..." Goodman poked his head out onto the patio one last time. The audience was getting restless. He began. Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. My name is Benjamin Goodman. Thank you for coming down to Lulu's this afternoon. Perhaps some of you may remember a television program called Barney Miller. I will now perform a reenactment from an outstanding episode entitled The Escape Artist. I will be portraying Roland Gusik, an inventor with a passion for flying. The role was first performed by Leonard Frey, a distinguished actor whose career included nominations for both an Oscar and a Tony award. As you will see, I also very briefly enact the role of Captain Barney Miller, the lead character made famous by Hal Holbrook. The Escape Artist was directed by Noam Pitlik who worked from a script written by Howard Leeds, Danny Arnold and Chris Howard. The performance begins with Mr. Gusik being brought into the station after he was apprehended while attempting to fly. Ladies and gentleman, may I introduce you to.....Roland Gusik. Goodman steps back and closes his eyes. He becomes Gusick. "I'd have made it across the river if you had minded your own business!" "You also could have gotten killed!" "Death has never been a deterrent. What's your name?" "Miller. Captain Miller." "Obscurity is more terrifying than death, Captain Miller. Accomplishments are what's important. If I die in an attempt to accomplish something, who's the sufferer?" "You are." "So?" "Self destruction happens to be against the law in this state, Mr. Gusick." Mom looks around and takes a breath."The minute the flasher and the siren start, boom! One of the guys goes ballistic. Zero to sixty in two seconds. Throws himself against the divider and starts screaming in Russian. It's like he's gonna break the back of my seat. Fierce. Fierce and strong. Whatever I'm saying, the guys not having any of it. Slam, slam, slam against the seat. And then he stops and goes bug eyed. Stares at the roof with his veins popping out. Arches his neck. His face goes red. Then it's like a bomb goes off inside him. I'm thinkin' this guy's having a seizure. The other guy just stares. The seizure guy twists back and forth and... It's the cuffs! The handcuffs! Not a seizure;he's tryin' to break the cuffs! Then the seizure guys starts slamming his brother and screaming like you wouldn't believe. He starts headbutting and biting like he's a piranha. A piranha and a bull. "PCP," Veronica says. "His brother confirmed that later. PCP was not detected nor mentioned by the arresting officers at the time of the initial incident." Mom's eyes move from Division back to her coffee. Gusick looks at his imaginary jailers then slowly makes eye contact with everyone in the room. "What's the difference between mankind and animals?" Two people hold their drinks, waiting for the punchline. Goodman majestically positions his head so that he's in profile, looking directly into the spotlight. "Mankind aspires. Mankind reaches out to the stars." Goodman's voice becomes bold... "Mankind pursues impossible dreams!" Slowly and rhythmically, Gusick begins rattling the bars of his jail cell. He closes his eyes and begins singing "The Impossible Dream". Mom looks into Daniel's eyes "I love that song." She shifts and looks away, towards Division. "Blood's all over the one suspect's face and the psycho's getting even more aggravated. I still can't pull over but I get my mace. I spray'em. I get as much as they do. Worse, the guy's not even bothered. It's like I used a squirtgun." "Mace has no effect on someone high on PCP," Veronica says. "I finally can pull over. I open the trunk. Then it's like this: the traffic, me, the door, the helpless brother and the psycho. No time to think but I gotta do something. And then, surprise, surprise, the helpless guy stuns his brother with a headbutt! Even the guy's eyes are covered with blood, but he's cooperative. I get him out of the backseat and into the trunk.Then I hear crunches. The back window's getting kicked! The psycho shoots his hand through the broken glass. More blood. And he broke the cuffs! Gets the door open. A black Mercedes smacks into it, makes it spark and fly off into the grass. My cruiser jumps two feet into the traffic lane. I'm hoping someone somewhere is calling HPD, police, anyone. I draw my weapon. It's me and this monster. His eyes.They're calm. Greyish green. Pupils normal, like he's starting work after a cup of coffee. I tell myself, 'Don't turn around to check traffic. You get hit, you get hit.'" Mom finally looks at Veronica. "I shoot his right leg. Nothing. He lunges at me. My shot goes wild. He grabs my arm like, like... like a dinosaur biting. Slams me against the cruiser. I can smell bourbon, formaldehyde and vomit and I fire and I fire. He doesn't stop. Gets his arms like he's wrestling and starts trying to punch a hole in my ribs. Our friction's making the mace stronger. Moaning and growling; that's it. His sweat's soaking into me and I fire and he's got me so tight his muscles feel like mine and I fire again. I feel my bullet cracking his bones. I need air. We're so tight it's like I'm shooting myself. He grabs my throat. Mom glances at Division Street again. "I get my gun against his Adam's apple. Last bullet. I fire and cut his neck in half. Mom looks back at Veronica. "That's how I got that first cast. I wasn't bit by a mommy dog protecting her puppies." "And..." Veronica is guilty, sad and compassionate. "And...that's why you missed my class play." Daniel puts his arm on Veronica and wraps his hand around his mother-in-law's wrist. A sock puppet appears on the table. Veronica looks up at a young woman holding a cassette labelled Do You Think I'm Soxy? Daniel stretches back to see Goodman taking a bow. Mom looks at Division Street and stands up.

"Veronica! There's phone by the kitchen. Get ready to call 911 and tell them an officer needs backup at 732 Division. Two story house across from Lulu's Rear End, red Datsun in the driveway. Daniel, stand by the door so Veronica can see you. I saw a young woman selling door-to-door go in twenty-five minutes ago. If she's in there and it's legit, then I just say I'm lost, come back and we all go drink Chianti. But...If I raise my hand over my head, you signal Veronica to make that call. If the door opens and I go in, you count to ten. One thousand, two thousand, like that... If I'm not out by ten thousand, you signal Veronica...Questions?"

Mom pulls her badge out of her purse. "Let's roll." Mom runs off. Daniel drops the napkin full of photos on the table next to Denzel. "Use the one with the books." Veronica checks the phone with one thought on her mind: Mom, you're not out in ten seconds, I'm comin' in. Beneath the big pink sign, Daniel watches Mom knock on the door. Mom rings the bell. Mom looks in the window. Mom's hand shoots up.